From the moment Sean McDaniel announced his resignation as general manager of the Chattanooga Football Club, rumors ran rampant he would assume the same post with the city's new United Soccer League Division III professional team.
Wednesday afternoon, that was confirmed.
McDaniel will serve as president and GM of the yet-to-be-named team, which will begin play in late March 2019. In a conversation with the Times Free Press, he said the timing was right.
"What makes Chattanooga awesome is, as its grown, as the culture's shifted in the right direction, as soccer has become more prominent across the country, it's the crown jewel of the South in many aspects," McDaniel said. "Not just soccer and sports, but economics and international presence from companies. As the city has grown, a lot of eyes are on it, so having another professional enterprise here in the sporting arena was inevitable. The city is ready for it, the city wants more games, professional athletes and an environment where it's a professional sport.
"I'm not sure this could have happened a decade ago, but if we just look around the Southeast the last 10 years, the last five years with Atlanta United, with Nashville now having a MLS team (expected to begin play in 2020), with Birmingham and Memphis starting professional teams next year, this is the footprint of soccer. Chattanooga falls right in it."
When news broke July 27 about the new franchise coming to Chattanooga and McDaniel's potential involvement, a lot of vitriol on social media was hurled in his direction. That anger came back Wednesday, but McDaniel said he hopes the city ultimately embraces something that will make it "bigger and better."
"Our hope is to put on a great show," he said. "That's part of it, but to invest and integrate into the Scenic City. I think we've just scratched the surface with the people that continue flooding into the city and live here now with respect to people who love the beautiful game and who love Chattanooga.
"I know we've got some great things coming up to announce that will be exciting and encouraging for people who love Chattanooga. That's our mission, to cater to the entire city, and I know we can do it."
McDaniel's first task is putting together a staff for the team, and he said he has received a lot of interest for positions necessary to run a professional franchise.
"What we're seeing is as soon as you start to promote the fact that this is a professional sport with professional athletes with a year-round staff, you start to get interest from around the country," he explained. "Not only people who know all about the great things of Chattanooga, but the fact this is a professional sports team and they want to come and be a part of a professional sports team in Chattanooga, Tennessee, so it's been impressive so far.
"Hopefully that'll make it easy as we make some decisions."
Chattanooga's pro team is expected to be a part of a league with 12 to 14 teams in its inaugural season, which will run through mid-September. As many as 15 home matches are hoped for.
The team is owned by business executive Robert "Bob" Martino, a real estate agent in Utah who is expected to be "heavily involved" in the city of Chattanooga, according to a news release.
"To lead this new team in Chattanooga and take soccer to the next level, I knew we wanted someone dedicated to his community and to this sport," Martino said in the release. "In Sean, I found an exceptional leader, who constantly strives to elevate the game and those around him. This is a Chattanooga team, and we wanted local leadership to guide our people and operations."
McDaniel was a co-founder of CFC, which completed its 10th season this summer. The team has won seven Southeast Conference championships in the National Premier Soccer League's South Region and was NPSL runner-up four times, most recently in 2015. CFC also won the 2015 Hank Steinbrecher Cup trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the United States Adult Soccer Association's amateur national championship.
CFC also has a women's team that made notable progress this year in its fifth season.
McDaniel described his time with CFC as "awesome."
"I loved that Chattanooga FC is the sum of many parts," he said. "It's not even just about soccer. It's about how it's influenced the community. I love its nonprofit foundation, I love its academy, and what it's become is far more than just soccer games. It's touched many pieces, and I love what they've done and I'm glad that I got to be a part of it.
"I'm proud that these are my friends that did it with me."
Contact Gene Henley at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.